Court ponders feds’ money

A $32.2-million windfall from the federal government, $16.1 million this year, may be used for a variety of purposes including making up for lost revenues during the pandemic, expanding the county health department, bolstering the rural volunteer fire departments and improving technology in the county’s nine courts, Ector County commissioners indicated during a non-action workshop Tuesday afternoon.

Judge Debi Hays said guidelines received with the first installment of the money in May say options include using it to address negative economic impacts, health-related concerns, water and sewer issues and anything related to preparing for or dealing with future outbreaks of the coronavirus.

The county is expected to receive the same amount sometime next year.

Hays said those questions will be considered while commissioners write the 2021-22 budget.

With Auditor Randy Donner reporting that the county had $4.5 million in revenue losses through the end of 2020, Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Gardner said, “I think what comes off the top should be put back into what we lost.”

Gardner said he also supports using part of the money to finance pipeline distribution for the Ector County Utility District’s expansion of its water system in West Odessa.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Armando Rodriguez said helping residents of South Ector County with septic tank installations should be a valid use and Hays told Rodriguez and Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons that the money could be applied to improve the water supplies at Gardendale and in the south part of the county.

After Hays said expenses tripled during the pandemic to finance the burials of indigent citizens, District Attorney Dusty Gallivan said action should be taken to improve the county’s ability to handle autopsies and that $700,000 is needed to complete the technological advances begun during the pandemic to facilitate video conferences and afford other such options in the courtrooms.

The judge said the West Texas Food Bank’s ability to take its services around the county could be enhanced and that Congress’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan is also intended to provide broadband capabilities and speed the transmissions of data.
President Biden said upon signing the law March 11 that it was designed to help the country bounce back from the economic and health damages of the pandemic and the recession it caused.